On Thursday morning, the European Union’s Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that companies within the 27-nation bloc can prohibit their workers from wearing headscarves, notably the Islamic face covering called the hijab, if “employers need to present a neutral image towards customers or [wish] to prevent social disputes.”
The verdict was reached after two cases were brought to the ECJ. Both hailed from Germany, where two women, both Muslim, one a special-needs caregiver and the other a cashier at the Mueller drugstore chain, had begun working without wearing a headscarf but changed their preference on their respective return from parental leave. In both cases, the women were told by their employer they could not, at that late stage, start wearing the hijab.
In the case of the Muslim caregiver, the ECJ ruled that the employer had not discriminated against her, as a Christian employee had been asked to remove their religious cross pendant. In both this and the other case, it was deemed up to the national court to have the final say on whether there had been discrimination.
The ECJ’s verdict has been criticized by many on social media, who deemed it an unnecessary attack on Islam and its observances, and as having added to the disenfranchisement of Muslims in Europe.
Mehreen Khan, the Financial Times’ EU correspondent, said the decision was being openly celebrated by the far right. She highlighted a tweet from conservative Belgian MP Theo Francken in this regard, in which the lawmaker literally gave the ruling the thumbs-up, adding that the ruling gave employers the freedom to adopt racist hiring practices.
In another tweet, she claimed it was just the latest in a string of court decisions “upholding companies’ right to not employ Muslim women if they think it’s bad for their business.” Another commentator concurred, asking people to imagine the uproar if the EU had made such a ruling against non-Muslims.
Meanwhile, others claimed the EU was being hypocritical, discriminating against Muslims by banning headscarves at work while also taking Hungary to court for discriminating against the LGBTQ+ community. Budapest recently passed a law preventing the promotion of LGBTQ+ matters to minors.
Another jibed, “EU went to Afghanistan to liberate women but wants to oppress a section of women at home,” and questioned how the wearing of a piece of cloth could be banned.
One Israeli woman drew a comparison with her own nation. She asked how the EU, which is supposedly “enlightened” and claims to be a “bastion of human rights” could ban the hijab yet everyone in Israel “has religious freedom to wear a hijab, kippah, kefiyyeh [sic].” She branded the EU “hypocrites” and termed the policy “racist.”
Others questioned practical elements of the ruling, asking, “How does wearing a headscarf impair their ability to work and teach?” “It doesn’t,” one person said in answer to their own question.
“Remember, it’s Brexit Britain that’s the hotbed of anti-Muslim prejudice like this,” one person scoffed, mocking the move.
Meanwhile, there were some who rejoiced in the court’s outcome. One Twitter user called it a “welcome development,” while Cieltje Van Achter, leader of the conversative NV-A party in Belgium praised the “neutrality” of the ECJ.
“It makes sense where one wears uniforms. As a rule, you must not wear a cap, for example,” one person wrote, while another quoted St. Ambrose’s famous saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” suggesting that the move would aid migrants’ assimilation.
Referring to the hijab, another commenter claimed the move would help remove the “oppressive” symbol from European society.
The wearing of the Islamic headscarf has been an issue of contention for years, with some seeing it as a visible manifestation of migrant communities failing to assimilate with European culture. Earlier this year, non-EU Switzerland voted in favor of banning the full-length women’s robe and head covering, the burqa.
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